Feb 6, 2021; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Rasir Bolton (45) shoots against the Oklahoma Sooners during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Some news that may have been a shock to some but was long expected by those who follow the program closely (shameless plug for our CF Premium) came across the wire on Tuesday.
Rasir Bolton is transferring from Iowa State after two seasons with the program. The Cyclones’ leading scorer last season will be seeking a new home as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining. This leaves T.J. Otzelberger and his staff four open scholarships for the spring recruiting cycle.
Let’s break down what this news means with some analysis on both sides of the equation…
Despite publicly reaffirming his commitment to Iowa State basketball last month before the news of Steve Prohm’s firing, the Petersburg, Va. native will play next season for his third program in four years.
“On March 11th, I stated my commitment to CyclONEnation,” Bolton wrote in a statement released on Twitter Tuesday evening. “I later learned that every decision is not ours to make.”
You can read between the lines…
Bolton did not fit in the plans Otzelberger has for the program’s future, and thus it was time for each party to move on.
You can expect Bolton, who earned third-team All-Big 12 honors this past year after averaging 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists, to have numerous high-level suitors much like he did when he transferred to Iowa State from Penn State before the 2019-20 season.
Why this is happening is something that Otzelberger and Bolton can only clarify, but I’m confident it is a move that did not come lightly.
Bolton is a big-time talent who has proven his ability at the Power 5 level. Losing him appears, at least on the surface, to certainly make the new head coach’s rebuild job in Ames even more difficult (which is saying something considering it was already going to be tough).
There’s a side alley of this conversation that can be discussed another day (and probably will as student-athlete rights continue to expand), and that’s the side of a student-athlete who wants to remain where they are but has the decision taken out of their hands. Right or wrong, that’s the world of college sports we live in today.
I will say that my experiences with Bolton were always positive. He seems like a good kid. He’s a smart kid, and he’s an excellent basketball player.
Here’s to hoping he lands at a school where he can play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career. This reporter will be rooting for him.
For Iowa State…
As stated above, Otzelberger’s job rebuilding this program just got considerably more difficult in the short term.
This also confirms that a lot of eggs are being put in Tyrese Hunter‘s basket. The four-star recruit from Wisconsin is a big-time talent, and he’ll have every opportunity to prove it during a freshman season in which, at this point and barring a massive transfer point guard addition this spring, he projects to be the Cyclones’ best creator on the offensive end.
Keeping that young man in the fold is priority No. 1 for Otzelberger and his staff, and there is a wide gap between whatever comes in second on that list. Full stop.
Otzelberger and his staff now have four scholarships left to work with after the departures of four scholarship players and the additions of Washington State transfer Aljaz Kunc and Denver transfer Robert Jones.
Kunc proved to be a reliable rotation piece capable of stretching the floor from the forward spot and being strong on the glass during the tail-end of this past season at Washington State. He can probably be expected to share a considerable amount of the minutes at the four spot with Ole Miss transfer Blake Hinson, who missed this past season due to a non-COVID-19 related medical condition that seems to be back under control.
Returning wing Javan Johnson figures into that equation somewhere as well.
Jones, a 6-foot-10 Minnesota native, provides depth at the five, with returners Xavier Foster and George Conditt, after averaging roughly nine points and five boards in 2020-21 for the Pioneers.
Now, this team needs some guards.
Long term, the focus of solving that problem is on landing Ames High star Tamin Lipsey in the 2022 recruiting class. Behind Hunter, there is no bigger priority on the staff’s minds than keeping that young man in his hometown.
Keeping Hunter in the fold, landing a player like Lipsey and continuing to develop the aforementioned Foster can give you a formidable foundation to build upon moving into year two of the Otzelberger era.
That’s a group, with three players from the Upper Midwest area Otzelberger has reiterated multiple times will be his focus, including two from inside the state of Iowa, that can set the tone of what’s to come in the years ahead.
In the short term, the program needs guys who can handle the ball and knock down shots from the perimeter to keep 2021-22 from being another unmitigated disaster in the mold of the program’s 2020-21 season.
Today, Tre Jackson and Jaden Walker are the only guards from the 2020-21 roster expected to return to the program next season.
That could change pending Jalen Coleman-Lands‘ decision on whether or not to use the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted everyone due to the pandemic. Still, his return seems unlikely at this point.
For these reasons, the guard spots seem like the most likely place fans can expect to see Otzelberger and his staff pay the most attention in the coming days and weeks.
While Hunter is unequivocally your point guard of the future, it would not seem like a bad idea to add another floor general-type player who can come in as a mentor of sorts to the youngster, allowing him opportunities to, one, not have to play 40 minutes at point guard every night as a freshman and, two, have someone pushing him between the lines every day in practice.
There probably isn’t a DeAndre Kane out there who is attainable for Iowa State, but look no further than the Cyclones’ all-time leader in assists and steals, Monte Morris, to see the value in having an older player there to help a young point guard along in their development and preparation for the nightly grind of the Big 12.
Above all else, this team needs guys who can put the ball in the basket, whether on the wing or at the traditional two-guard spot. Otzelberger favors a fast-paced spread-the-floor style that relies on players capable of making shots, and there are not many guys I would call bucket getters on this roster in its current form.
One of the guys on the roster who fit that mold announced on Tuesday he’s going to be looking for a new home. Hopefully, it works out for the best for both parties.